Carolyn J. Rose grew up in New York’s Catskill Mountains, graduated from the University of Arizona, logged two years in Arkansas with Volunteers in Service to America, and spent 25 years as a television news researcher, writer, producer, and assignment editor in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. Now getting her quota of stress as a substitute teacher, she lives in Vancouver, Washington, and founded the Vancouver Writers’ Mixers. Her hobbies are reading, gardening, and not cooking.
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Maybe it’s because I was a tomboy—the consequence of having two brothers and being the only girl in my neck of the woods (that woods being located in the Catskill Mountains)—but I’ve always been uncomfortable with the concept of romance and stories centered on a pair of lovers. I didn’t read books where girls were swept off their feet by dashing strangers and I squirmed when a romantic encounter appeared on the big silver screen, or even the tiny black-and-white one we huddled around on winter afternoons.
When Tarzan and Jane kissed, the neighborhood boys stomped their feet and called for an elephant stampede or a rogue tiger attack. I did the same. Watching Tarzan fight a tiger or turn a herd of elephants was much more exciting than watching him kiss a woman who could do neither. There was probably more to their relationship, but at the time it seemed that Jane, wearing a scrap of an outfit, mostly had to be rescued.
I didn’t want to be rescued. I wanted to swing on those vines, dive into those clear jungle pools, and take on the tigers.
Back then, I was all about plot and action. The emotional journey, especially that yearning for love and oneness, was lost on me.
And it remained lost for some time. My mother, a realist by circumstance if not by choice, made it clear that “happily ever after” was, at best, a myth. She told me that when the lovers rode off into the sunset, a whole new story began and that story could well be filled with conflict and lead to a less-than-happy ending.
So I read the shoot-‘em-up westerns my father loved so much. I read biographies and histories. And I read hard-boiled mysteries where the love interest often turned out to be a double-dealing killer.
Later, when I began to write, I downplayed love and attraction in favor of plot and conflict between characters. Casey Brandt and Stu McKnight (Consulted to Death, Driven to Death, Dated to Death) eventually get together, but I tried to leave readers with an awareness that this relationship would rest on a bed of roses notable for its many thorns. In Hemlock Lake, Dan Stone and Camille Chancellor drift into a tenuous involvement and in An Uncertain Refuge, Kate and Jackson strike sparks, but in both books I made an effort to downplay attraction in favor of action, and steered well clear of steamy details.
But then one day I found myself thinking about first love, about those ragged, jagged emotions, about feelings with frightening depth, feelings that seemed new and fresh—as if no one had ever experienced them before. I thought about stabbing grief of love rejected or betrayed, the profound sense of loss and abandonment and aloneness, of life stripped of meaning. I wanted to explore that.
The result was A Place of Forgetting, the story of 19-year-old Elizabeth Roark who, in 1966, loses her love both to another girl and to the Vietnam War. Elizabeth is naïve, trusting, sheltered, and without a mother. She yearns for closeness and belonging and respect, but not for the courtship dance or dates and ever-more-daring sexual liberties, for the candy, cards, flowers, and other trappings of what other girls call romance. As the story unfolds, she blames herself for losing the man she loved, but then is forced to re-examine and re-evaluate her definition of love.
Writing A Place of Forgetting took me far afield from my usual mystery and suspense, but it felt satisfying, so I stuck with it, hauling Elizabeth to a mountaintop in Arkansas, setting her up for yet more betrayal, and leaving her with only a copy of Walden and the company of an elderly psychic prone to drink, depression, and denigrating remarks.
And then, because I cut my teeth on mystery and suspense and because, as I said earlier, I’m more comfortable with action than attraction, I threw in a storm, a snake, and a gun.